Let the Gaelic Games Begin!

Admin Note: Taylor is a junior COM student, seeking culture, adventure, and everything Irish during her four months abroad in Dublin. She’ll be blogging from Dublin, Ireland for the COMmunicator this semester.

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Irish pride is epitomized in the spirit surrounding traditional Gaelic sports. Gaelic games act as a symbol of Irish identity, culture, and nationalism, which is especially central to society given the country’s history of oppression.  Last week, I traded in my laptop and notebook for a helmet and running shoes as I braced myself for an interactive field trip to Na Fianna arena. I spent the morning being whipped into shape while taking crash courses on three traditional Gaelic sports: hurling, Gaelic football, and handball.

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The level of intensity in Gaelic sports surpasses any sport I’ve witnessed in the United States. The day started off with handball, which is essentially racquetball sans the racket.  So what do they whack the ball with? Bare hands.  I personally passed most of the time thrashing my arms through the empty air without ever making contact to the ball. You can’t win them all, right?

Next I was introduced to hurling, which may or may not be the most dangerous sport available to mankind. Hurling feels like a combination of field hockey and baseball, but with a faster pace and minimal protective padding.  Needless to say, donning thirty Americans with hurling sticks  resulted in a few kids getting hit with the fast flying ball, which can legally be picked up and hit like a baseball across the field.  Take a look at this video clip to get a sense of the game (and note the lack of padding!).

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Happily among the unharmed, I moved on to Gaelic football. Much to my relief, the ball was similar to the consistency of a soccer ball and was therefore far less threatening. Gaelic football is an unexplainable mix of football, soccer, basketball, and volleyball, with rules that were seemingly decided on over a pint of Guinness.  Again, the clip below might help you get a better idea.  Even with an air of confusion lingering on the field as our Irish coaches yelled drills and commands at us, it was the most invigorating sport of the day.

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You might be surprised to hear that Gaelic sports are not professional.  The national leagues in Ireland are amateur, but hold equal if not greater enthusiasm compared to professional American sports.  The athletes do not get paid with anything other than a sense of pride and peer admiration, and each player is only entitled to play for their native county (so there is no trading like in American sports). You are born into your team for life.  It is truly beautiful in my eyes, and speaks heavily to the Irish identity.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been Ireland if we weren’t rained and hailed on intermittently throughout the day.  Although my body took a few hours to defrost afterwards, I exited the arena with an all new respect for the tradition, atmosphere, and players of Gaelic games. These sports are more than just a hobby or pastime to natives; they are the way to keep heritage and national unity alive and flourishing in Ireland.

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